- Love After The Tale of Genji: Rewriting the World of the Shining Prince
Mention Heian fiction, and most will automatically think first of Genji monogatari, a work that by modern accounts is far superior to anything else written in the tenth or eleventh century. Earlier readers apparently would not have been so categorical. Late Heian fiction—including Sagoromo monogatari, Hamamatsu Chūnagon monogatari, and Yoru no nezame, the three major late eleventh-century works that are the subject of Charo B. D'Etcheverry's welcome study, Love After The Tale of Genji: Rewriting the World of the Shining Prince—seems to have been greatly admired from the twelfth century on, and was even thought to be superior to Genji in some respects. By the Meiji era, however, Sagoromo and the rest were considered derivative, at best poor imitations of Genji. Their reputation has improved somewhat in the last twenty years, so that they now appear in modern editions accompanied by a few commentaries; still, the dearth of secondary scholarship signals that this continues to be a neglected area.
In the introduction, "Lights Out in Heian," D'Etcheverry explores the immediate post-Genji period and explains how Sagoromo, Hamamatsu Chūnagon, and Nezame came to lose their high literary status. Chapter 1, "The Woman's Court: Theory and Practice," situates the three works in the historical context of the Rear Court, or kōkyū, the inner palace area comprising the twelve buildings lived in by royal consorts and others. The chapter aims to heighten the reader's awareness of the world from which these aesthetically attuned literary works emerged—a world of family alliances, [End Page 509] palace politics, and patronage systems, in which male and female courtiers struggled to get ahead. D'Etcheverry gives particular attention to the literary circle of Princess Baishi, including its best known member, Senji, to whom Sagoromo is attributed.
The remaining three chapters of this short study are dedicated to proving that, far from being slavish copies of Genji, the three monogatari "deliberately rewrite" important aspects of Genji (p. xiii) through "creating simplified versions of a favorite Genji motif or storyline,...and then expanding on the subject" (p. 21). In the course of demonstrating how this is done in selected episodes from each monogatari, D'Etcheverry makes stimulating and thought-provoking comments on the works and on Heian fiction in general.
In chapter 2, "The Tale of Sagoromo and Midranks Romance" (a version of which appeared in MN 59:2 in 2004 as "Out of the Mouths of Nurses: The Tale of Sagoromo and Midranks Romance"), D'Etcheverry analyzes the best known subplot of Sagoromo monogatari, that of the heroine Asukai's ill-fated romance with the hero, Sagoromo. Two areas are addressed: the seemingly unfeeling actions taken by Asukai's nurse on her charge's behalf and the narrator's unwavering presentation of social difference as the sole reason for the tragic ending of the subplot. D'Etcheverry points out that the latter stance sets the Asukai story apart from similar "midranks romances" in Genji—such as those between Genji and Yūgao, or Ukifune and her two suitors—which are further complicated by feelings of jealousy, rivalry, and indecision. Where Murasaki Shikibu "dilut[es] her social criticisms for the sake of a more complex portrait of human life," the Sagoromo author "explicitly endorses the nurse's view of the world" (pp. 84-85): that high-ranking young nobles are disastrous matches for women such as Asukai, who would be better off marrying within their own class.
Chapter 3, "Family Substitutes in The Tale of Hamamatsu," is a sympathetic, insightful reading of the eccentric Hamamatsu Chūnagon monogatari, known for its use of reincarnation as a principal plot device. D'Etcheverry describes how the Genji theme of romantic obsession, represented by the hero's search for a substitute to replace a lost loved one, is revisited through the perspective of reincarnation. The search in Genji is inevitably...